Dealing with doggy dysfunction at home is stressful for everyone, particularly when fights break out.
But while dog fights are scary, there are ways to address the issue and restore household harmony.
We’ll explain how to stop family dogs from fighting, outline reasons why they may be having issues, and break down what to do if your dogs get into a fight below.
How to Make Family Dogs Stop Fighting: Key Takeaways
- Dog fights happen, and while scary, they’re not the end of the world. Dog-on-dog conflict is often a part of multi-dog households, but it can be overcome and avoided with appropriate interventions.
- Fighting between family dogs has many potential causes. Everything from sickness to competition over resources can lead to doggy disputes.
- Preventing future fights takes time and patience. Not every issue has a quick fix, but with proper mitigation, training, and bonding exercises, most dogs can live in harmony together after a skirmish.
Why Do Family Dogs Fight?
So what makes a dog suddenly start behaving aggressively or fighting with another dog in the household? In simple terms: Stress.
Sudden fighting between dogs can have several triggers, all of which boil down to some degree of stress. Relieving this stress is vital in avoiding future spats.
The most common causes of stress leading to dog fights are:
- Health issues: If your dog feels crummy, he may get snappy with his fur friends. He may also move to separate himself from the pack if he’s sick or injured. This is usually seen with older doggos, but health-induced fights can occur with any pups.
- Changes in routine: Whether you’re working more or switching up mealtime, a schedule change can throw off your dogs’ idea of “normal,” creating uncertainty. Post-COVID life is currently causing headaches for countless families with canines.
- Social changes: Adding or removing a dog or person from the house can throw off your pack dynamic and lead to conflicts.
- Overstimulation: Too much stimulation can cause redirection, leading to scraps between family dogs. “Fence fighting” with neighboring dogs is a common source of this stress.
- Poor socialization: Socialization starts with your dog’s littermates and continues when he comes home. Sometimes there’s a disconnect in this process, and your dog misses key lessons in canine body language, appropriate behavior, and more. This can lead to overly boisterous play, jumping/pouncing, and eventually fights.
- Unaddressed anxiety: Anxiety can wreak havoc on your dog’s health and impact his relationships with canine housemates, leading to seemingly unexplained aggression.
- Frustration: Dogs that are under-exercised or emotionally neglected may fight out of sheer frustration. Daily physical exercise and mental stimulation are essential for every dog, regardless of age (though the amount needed varies by breed).
- Rough play: Sometimes happy-go-lucky play sessions get out of hand, leading to a doggy brawl. This is usually seen in younger pups still learning the dos and don’ts of interacting with other dogs.
- Inadequate space: Dogs need their own space, and forcing them to share a small kennel or crate will often lead to altercations.
- Conflicting personalities: Some dogs just don’t get along. They may need more work in building a bond than others or may be best apart in the long run.
- Competition over resources: Food, toys, beds, and even affection can lead to spats between household dogs. Ensuring adequate resources is essential in multi-dog households, but sometimes, you need to take things a step further and keep triggers like bones or food away from common areas.
- Poor introductions: Bringing home a new dog requires a series of steps to ensure a smooth transition. Rushing the process or ignoring resident dogs’ boundaries can lead to fights and ongoing issues.
Your dogs may be experiencing one or more of the issues discussed above. Identifying and addressing them is essential for long-term success and preventing future fights.
How to Separate Fighting Dogs: Immediate Action
If your dogs ever get into a fight, your first instinct is to jump in and separate them. While separating them right away is ideal, you also want to keep yourself and others safe, as accidental bites can occur. You can still separate your fighting dogs fast without getting hurt by employing several methods.
With this method, you make a loud sound to grab the dogs’ attention. You can yell, scream, or sound an air horn if you have one handy. For most of your run-of-the-mill family dog fights, this will do the trick, and your dogs will be startled enough to break up the action, allowing you to separate them for cooldown time.
While your dogs’ are fighting, throw a blanket over them. As with the distraction method, this can startle them enough to stop their quarrel, giving you a window to swoop in and separate them. This is best for minor tussles between resident dogs.
Spray the dogs with a hose or citronella device if you happen to have one. You can also toss a cup of cold water on them. As with the blanket toss, the dogs will typically go their separate ways, and you can move to separate them. This can be used during doggy dustups or grab-and-holds, though it may not always get a reaction from the latter.
Wedge an item like a board, dog gate, or folding chair between the dogs. Basically, any item that separates the dogs and keeps you out of harm’s way is ideal. Barriers work with both types of dog fights and are one of the best options in ending the clash and keeping you safe.
A break stick is necessary if you can’t separate the dogs in a grab-and-hold situation. Using a broom handle or stick, wedge it between the biting dog’s jaws and twist, effectively prying the jaws open. You can then move onto the wheelbarrow method below and separate the dogs.
Using two people, you each grab the hind end of a dog engaged in a grab-and-hold fight and pull them apart. While this technically can work, it isn’t an approach we’d recommend – it should only be a last resort.
For one, both people are at risk of injury, as either dog could redirect onto the person grabbing them. This method can also cause more damage between dogs if they’re biting down, leading to shred-type injuries.
How to Make Family Dogs Stop Fighting: Long-Term Solutions
Now that you’ve identified why your dogs are fighting and physically separated them, it’s time to work on solutions. This is a family-wide effort that will take some time, patience, and even some creativity, but in the end, your dogs will hopefully get along fine again.
Always examine your dogs one-on-one after a squabble, regardless of how minor. Not only do you need to check for injuries from the fight, but you want to check for signs of existing injuries or illness such as limping, tenderness, pale gums, and more that might hint to why he’s feeling grumpy.
Visiting the Vet
Whenever your dogs have a fight out of the blue, it’s a good idea to have everyone checked out by the vet for a clean bill of health. This is particularly important with older dogs, though all canines can be masters of masking ailments.
After a fight, your dogs need time apart to calm down. This period may last hours, days, or even permanently, depending on the reason behind the fight.
Using crates and barriers like dog gates can usually keep smaller dogs apart, though it can be harder with larger, powerful breeds.
In some cases where conflict between dogs seems to happen constantly, you may need to start using gates and barriers as a long-term, permanent set-up for living with dogs who don’t get along.
Your dogs should always eat in their own space, so there’s no perceived competition over food. If you’re not doing this already, go ahead and start. Crates or dog gates can be used to give your dog privacy while eating.
Everyone eats in their own crate in my four-dog household. They know when mealtimes come to go into their crates and sit/wait for their bowls.
I like making them sit because it prevents them from jumping around crazily, and they seem to eat slower rather than wolfing it all down once presented with the bowl.
Dogs suffering from anxiety due to changes in the household, pack, or schedule may benefit from dog calming supplements like CBD. As with any supplement, you should check with your vet first to ensure it won’t interact with any of your dogs’ existing medical conditions or medications.
Desensitizing Your Dogs to Stressors
Implementing desensitization training can alleviate your dogs’ anxieties over time and reduce the chance of future fights. This training is used to get your dog used to triggers, so they no longer elicit an inappropriate response, such as redirecting onto another dog. This is particularly useful if your dogs fight when visitors come over or the doorbell rings.
Frustrated dogs are more prone to canine clashes. A major source of frustration in dogs is a lack of mental stimulation and the ability to be, well, a dog. Canine enrichment is a critical part of your dogs’ happiness and should be part of their everyday routine, whether you go on sniffari walks or practice sandbox digging.
All the changes in the world won’t do any good if you’re not consistent. Dogs thrive with structure and routine. Maintaining these is key to ensuring long-term success. Everyone in the house needs to be on board with your new regimen in preventing dog fights.
Providing Adequate Exercise
With life pulling you every which way, your dogs can suffer. They may see less of you and have their daily walks swapped for leisurely backyard strolls. While any outdoor time is great, not every breed is content with this arrangement. Daily walks or jogs are critical in burning off excess energy and frustration, particularly with young dogs or athletic pups.
Hiring a dog walker is a good idea if you can’t meet these needs, though they should be made aware of your dogs’ fighting history.
How to Handle Things Post Fight
After stopping your dogs from physically fighting, you need to separate them entirely, ideally in separate rooms, so you can check them over individually for injuries.
If any are found, you need to discern if they warrant emergency treatment, like stitches, or if they are minor scrapes that just need cleaning and observation.
Once any injuries are tended to, it’s critical for everyone involved in the fight to have time to decompress alone. That includes both you and your dogs.
This calms the frantic energy and allows everyone to chill out a bit. During this time, you can discern the possible cause of the fight.
If the reason behind the fight is obvious, like food, you have a clear path forward. You can incorporate pack walks and other slow introduction tactics to smooth things over before returning to normal with safety measures in place.
The timeline here varies, with some dogs only needing mere hours to be fine again while others may require days or weeks.
If the cause of the dog-on-dog aggression is uncertain or if the fight was severe, you may want to look into hiring a certified dog behavior consultant to sort things out.
But whether you can tackle the issue yourself or require professional help, the dogs cannot be reintroduced until the underlying issues are sorted out. In the event of severe fights, they probably shouldn’t be trusted alone together again.
Your timeline to reintroduction following serious fights will differ significantly from those experiencing minor clashes, so go into this phase with patience and an open heart.
It’s also important to keep your dogs’ safety front and center. Not every dog can live happily in multiple dog households. This isn’t a failure on your part. In these cases, the best path forward may be rehoming one dog.
What NOT to Do During a Dog Fight
You can make mistakes in the heat of the moment, but knowing what to do and what not to do ahead of time can prevent unnecessary injuries or worsening doggy turmoil.
If your dogs are fighting, do not:
- Stick your hands between the dogs. Dog bites are not only painful, but they can lead to significant, long-term damage. Never put your body between fighting dogs.
- Strike your dog. This only adds to the fracas and can result in a pretty nasty bite. It can also hype the dogs up to fight more, worsening the situation.
- Alpha roll. Aversive “training” methods like this are counterproductive and can worsen your dogs’ anxiety and pack issues. You may also wind up with a bite.
How to Distinguish Fighting from Play
Sometimes play can get a little noisy and seem like fighting, making it hard to tell the two apart. Before reacting, look at your dogs and observe their interaction to discern what’s really going on.
Dog fighting and play can be told apart in several ways:
- Body language. Playing dogs appear “loose” and bouncy while fighting dogs are rigid and tense. See our guide to dog body language for more info.
- Role reversal: Are your dogs taking turns with chasing versus running, pouncing versus being pounced, etc.? Playing dogs often switch roles.
- Play bowing. With this behavior, one dog “bows” the front of his body to the other, usually springing up and down as if asking them to engage in play.
- Mouth position. Like the rest of their bodies, playing dogs have a loose mouth or “grip” on one another, whereas fighting dogs have tight holds.
- Whale eyes. Whale eyeing is where you can see the whites of your dogs’ eyes. This is a sign of anxiety or discomfort and an indicator of fighting or an impending issue.
Types of Dog Fights
Dog fights fall into two distinct buckets that differ in appearance and severity. Recognizing the difference is key in moving forward and finding a resolution. It’s also crucial in knowing how to separate the dogs safely.
These are the most common fights you’ll see between dogs who live together. Doggy dustups are usually very loud with a lot of snarling, snapping, and movement, but they don’t involve doggo death grips like more serious fights do.
Fortunately, this type of fight is usually short-lived and easy to break up.
While doggy dustups are less severe, your dogs can still get seriously hurt during them, particularly if one dog is more powerful than the other. These can also spin out of control into the more serious type of dog fight, the grab-and-hold.
Grab-and-hold fights are less common than doggy dustups and a lot more dangerous for dogs and humans. In these fights, one or both dogs will grab and hold onto the other, potentially inflicting severe damage or even death.
Unlike doggy dustups, grab-and-hold fights aren’t generally loud or boisterous. Instead, they’re often quieter and locked onto one another, both with their mouths and bodies.
Separation is difficult, as the dogs ignore commands or loud distractions and often ignore interventions like hoses or sprays. Special care must be taken in separating dogs engaged in grab-and-hold fights to prevent worsening injuries between dogs or redirection onto humans.
Fighting between family dogs is stressful for everyone, but you can overcome this hurdle with patience and perseverance. It may mean changing routines or, in some cases, rehoming, but in the end, everyone’s safety and happiness are most important.
Do you have any advice for owners struggling with resident dog issues? Any bonding activities you’d recommend? Please share with us in the comments.
May 8, 2023
I have 4 dogs. They all get along well for the most part. When my husband comes home from work, or if we have company, that’s when things change. They all want his attention or the companies attention and all heck breaks loose. Usually 3 of the dogs gang up on the other dog (She is the runt) ending in quite a bad fight. Now, not all 3 go fight her at once, they bark at her and then one of the 3 will go at her. They have had fights where they have broken the skin on Blu. What do you recommend for something like this? We have kept them separated when these situation come up and that has worked, but, is there a better way?
May 9, 2023
Hey there, Kristin.
Because you’re dealing with four dogs, the dynamics of the situation are going to be pretty complex. So, your current approach (keeping them separated) is likely the easiest and safest solution.
You could reach out to a trainer or certified dog behavior consultant to try to establish some domestic harmony, but it’s not going to be a quick fix.
You may also want to check out our article about living with dogs who don’t get along — it focuses on management techniques rather than behavioral modification.
Best of luck!
January 5, 2023
It’s not always stress. I took my 9 month old to the vets today for spaying preop as this had been recommended to stop fighting in young females. My 9 month old has started fighting with the 2 year old for the last 3 weeks. The vet said she is having a phantom pregnancy and this is causing the behaviour change due to hormones. Steroids can be given to stop this then a week later she can be spayed and hopefully problem is solved
January 5, 2023
We hope that works out well for you, DP! Let us know how it goes.
December 12, 2022
We have two-year-old littermates, a male and a female that generally get along very well. They have had a few dust ups in the past but recently, the frequency has taken an uptick. They have had two or three altercations in the last month. Seeing other animals outside seems to be a trigger shed, we treat them differently as littermates than if they were not siblings?
December 13, 2022
Probably not in this context. Ultimately, the best solution may just be to prevent them from seeing animals outside by using curtains, window films, or other types of barriers.
But if that doesn’t work, you may need to reach out to a certified dog behavior consultant.
Best of luck!
August 30, 2022
We have brought a new puppy into the home and about once, twice a day she and my existing dog are fighting. The first fight was when my older dog tried to snap at the puppy to get her to stop playing so much, the puppy rather than stop fought back. I stepped in, split them up and kept them apart. The second fight was my fault, I gave both dogs a long-lasting chew and the older dog was on the sofa chewing, accidentally dropped the chew, puppy turned to sniff it and the older dog leapt down to attack her/stop her taking the chew. Again, rather than back off the puppy fought back – i tried to split them up by getting in the middle and got bitten as they tried to get back at each other. The third fight was when we had a guest, my old dog was pacing excitedly with a sock in her mouth as she does and the puppy tried to take the sock. I separated them by lifting the puppy up and away and into her crate.
On walks, the puppy tries to dash at the dog and body slams her. I am walking the puppy on the lead as she is big and might hurt the older dog, also she is not 100% at recall yet so I dont trust her off the lead. The older dog is off the lead as she always has been. I am worried if this continues I will not be able to keep the puppy as I cannot risk my older dog being hurt but we LOVE the puppy and really want it to work out! What is the best way forwards now, should I walk the puppy first thing so she is calmer when she is first with the older dog after a nights sleep? Or are walks together a good thing? The puppy doesnt seem to care when I tell her off, she’s an old english sheepdog and seems stubborn.
August 30, 2022
Hey there, Ali. Sorry to hear about the problems with your pooch.
We have the perfect article for you: How to Introduce a Puppy to an Older Resident Dog.
And I’d encourage you to keep both dogs leashed whenever you’re not in a fenced area.
Best of luck!